How to Live with Others
How to Live with Others
1 Corinthians 16:10-24
by William Klock
Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 16:4-9 and I titled that sermon “How to Live”. As we see Paul explain his plans to the Corinthians, he shows us by example how to live in a such way that we do effective work for God’s kingdom – and most importantly, how to make our plans with God’s principles and sovereignty in mind. Now today I want to look at the last part of Chapter 16, beginning with verse 10. If verses 4 to 9 were about how to live, these verses are about how to live with others, especially in terms of our all being fellow workers in God’s kingdom. How do we live and interact with each other as we do God’s work? What’s our attitude supposed to be toward our brothers and sisters? Those are the questions answered in these final verses.
First, look at verses 10-11. Paul writes:
When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.
Over the years St. Paul had a number of travelling companions, but St. Timothy is the one we know best from Scripture, not least of which because Paul wrote him two letters to instruct and encourage him in his own pastoral ministry. Paul met Timothy as a boy when he was visiting Lystra. That was where the Jews were so angry with Paul that they stoned him, dragged him out of town and left him for dead in the city dump. God graciously intervened and Paul survived and later went back to Lystra to preach some more. No doubt this had a strong impact on young Timothy, who joined Paul in his travels, becoming his beloved and faithful son in the faith.
Now Paul writes to the Corinthians to tell them that Timothy will be there soon and he gives them some specific instructions. Because of what Paul wrote to Timothy, we can gather that at the very least, Timothy was the “quiet and shy” type of guy. He wasn’t pushy and assertive. For him to visit Corinth was going to take some guts. Remember that one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter was because the Corinthians were rejecting his authority. He was an apostle, but they saw him as spiritually inferior and didn’t want to listen to him. Now Timothy, Paul’s protege is headed their way. If they’re not willing to listen to Paul, they probably won’t listen to Timothy either – and there’s a good chance they might even treat him badly. So anticipating that they might reject Timothy, Paul writes ahead of time and says, “Put him at ease among you.” He’s saying, “Welcome him into your church and encourage him in his ministry, he’s doing the work of the Lord. Don’t anyone despise him.”
Brothers and sisters, this what we’re here for: doing the Lord’s work. God calls us to work together, not to go out and each do his or her own thing independently of the Church, because we need the exhortation and encouragement and help of each of our fellow workers. We the body of Christ and in a body, all the parts work together to get the job done. Don’t ever despise or hinder you brother or sister, especially when they’re doing the Lord’s work. Sometimes our fellow workers might need correction, but they don’t need to be despised or dismissed. They need our help just as we need theirs.
In Timothy’s specific case, we can gather that there were those who despised him wherever he went because of his youth. Paul wrote to him in 1 Timothy 4: 12, “Let no one despise you for your youth.” Can youth be inexperienced and arrogant. Of course. This past year I spent some time talking to a young priest who had just graduated from seminary. He was a nice guy and he was gung-ho for the Gospel, but he didn’t really want to listen to anything I had to say. He was a new seminary graduate and he had it all figured it. I remember coming home and telling Veronica that I hoped I wasn’t that arrogant when I was fresh out of seminary. But youth and inexperience don’t have to go hand in hand. Consider that John Calvin wrote his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion – a massive theological work that has probably had greater impact on Protestantism than any other work -and he published it when he was only 27. Youth doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of maturity in the faith or ability in ministry. We need to welcome our fellow workers with open arms and do everything we can to support them.
Further, Paul says, “Help him on his way in peace.” Don’t leave him to fend for himself when he leaves you – help him out. We see this principle over and over again in Scripture; if someone has ministered to you spiritually, then provide them with some material support. Paul expected that the Corinthians would share the benefits of his working among them, and it was only natural that he should have the benefit of their help.
And notice he says, send him “in peace.” Don’t hassle him. Again, these people were rejecting Paul’s teaching and authority. Maybe they wouldn’t have hassled Paul in person, but it’s a lot more likely they’d hassle his young protege. Paul warns them not to be overbearing with this young man, but to listen to him, help him and receive and reassure him.
In verse 12 Paul gives us a really amazing example of our unity as fellow workers. He says there:
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.
Remember back to the beginning of the epistle where Paul berated them for their divisions. Some claimed to be followers of Peter, some of Apollos. We know that Apollos was particularly popular there – probably as popular with them as Paul was unpopular. And yet Paul himself urged Apollos to pay them a visit. Paul may have seen himself as their spiritual father, but remember too that, when it came to the Lord’s work in Corinth, he said that he had planted, but it was Apollos who had watered those seeds. We all have different roles in ministry. It’s not a competition. Now Paul puts his money were his mouth is. He knew that these people were siding with Apollos against him, but that doesn’t stop him from encouraging Apollos to visit them. If they wouldn’t listen to him, maybe they would listen to Apollos. Notice that Paul wasn’t seeking his own glory. He didn’t claim the ministry as his ministry. He knew that all ministry belongs to God and the desire of every minister (or Christian worker) is not for his own glory, but the growth of the kingdom and the glory of God.
There are two basic principles that we need to follow when it comes to living and working together in the Kingdom. Look at verses 13 and 14:
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
These are the two rules for kingdom work: First, remember you’re in God’s army. Be the warrior he’s called you to be. But second, be a loving warrior.
Think about that. Quite a few of you men were in the military even if it wasn’t in wartime. What does the military train you to do? It gives you a mission and it teaches you to stand firm in that mission. If you don’t fulfil the mission, you lose. If you’re called to hold your position, you hold your position – you stand your ground. It takes strength and it takes courage. It means not being
afraid to do what it takes to fulfil the mission. And it means being on your guard – being watchful – because you know there’s an enemy out there who wants nothing more than for you to run away and leave that ground to him.
C.S. Lewis probably had this verse in mind when he said that what the Church needs today more than ever is “men with chests.” Paul says, “act like men.” Yes, ladies, that even means you. When it comes to the faith, be strong, be courageous – in fact that’s how a lot of modern Bibles translate “act like men.” Be courageous in the Lord’s work. Lewis saw the Church around him falling prey to liberal theology and not standing firm for the Gospel. He saw men in the pulpits and seminaries and the pews who weren’t willing to take a stand for God’s truth. He saw a need for men (and women) who were willing to take a stand in the battle, who would proclaim the Word of God boldly and clearly and unapologetically, and who were even willing to take a bullet for the Gospel. The Church needs men and women who will, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Who will “put on the whole armor of God, that [they] may...stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6: 10-11).
But it’s not all about being strong and courageous. It’s easy to get so absorbed in taking a stand for God’s truth that you forget to be loving and you act like a jerk. I’ve known a lot of people who were staunch defenders of the faith, but their approach was so contemptuous, arrogant, spiteful, and obnoxious that they drove everyone away other than a handful of other men who were just like them. I’ve always noticed churches that are full of these guys are rarely outwardly focussed. It’s awfully hard to draw men and women to Christ when you’ve got a chip on your shoulder. We always need to take a courageous stand for the truth, but we also have to be loving.
Paul goes on in verses 15 to 18:
Now I urge you, brothers -you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia [that’s the southern part of Greece where Athens and Corinth are], and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints-be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men.
Remember that First Corinthians is Paul’s response to a letter sent to him in Ephesus and to what visitors to that church were reporting to him about the situation there. These three men were probably the ones who delivered the Corinthians’ letter to him, but in coming to him at Ephesus, he says, they encouraged him and refreshed his spirit. In his remembering the faith of Stephanas, he gives us an example of how we ought to remember those who have helped us in each of our ministries. He says that Stephanas was the first convert in Greece, which means he probably heard Paul preaching in Athens. That’s where Paul began his ministry in Greece. Stephanas might have been one of those who was converted as Paul preached on Mars Hill as we read in Acts 17. However it happened, Paul never forgot this man.
Paul had great appreciation for the ministry of Stephans and his household. They had devoted themselves to the service of their brothers and sisters in Corinth. Paul doesn’t say exactly what that service was, but we can gather that it was almost certainly more than just hospitality. Stephanas may have hosted the Church in his home and may have been one of the elders or priests in the congregation. These are encouraging words for us, especially for those of you who have opened your homes to your brothers and sisters and who have devoted your time, talent, and treasure to building up the body and doing the work of the Lord.
I think it’s safe to assume that Stephanas was an elder, because Paul urges the Corinthians to submit themselves to him and to take heed of men like Stephanas – to listen to them and to follow their lead. And we can and should rejoice in them, just as Paul did, because they refreshed his spirit. Do you know people like that? When you’re with them their love for God and for their brothers and sisters is contagious and they lift you up without even trying. Rejoice in people like that and thank God for them.
But more than that, thank them! That’s the last thing Paul tells us – show these people your appreciation. This is something that we can always be better at. There are people in our congregation who devote a lot of their time and energy to ministry here, whether it’s stuff we usually think of as ministry or other things that are needed just to keep the doors open. A lot of these things go on behind the scenes and quite a few of probably give little thought to them. We don’t say, “Thank you!” enough. We need to be careful not to take the service of our brothers and sisters for granted and, more importantly, we need to thank them for what they do. Let me suggest that one of the best ways is to offer yourself for service too. They have served you. Find some way to be their servant in return.
That brings us to Paul’s closing greeting. Look at verses 19 and
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
First these churches greet each other. The “churches in Asia” were the ones that started with Paul’s founding of the Ephesian church. To accommodate the crowds, Paul had rented a hall there and was teaching six days a week, all day. It was the ancient equivalent of an inner-city church. And it had a bunch of satellite church plants throughout the province. The house church of Aquila and Priscilla sent greetings too. This was an amazing couple whom Paul met in Corinth and who show up in several of his letters. They had come from Rome and sometime after this, they would go back to Rome and host another church in their home.
But there are also individual greetings. Paul talks about greeting each other with a “holy kiss.” This is the origin of our practice of “passing the peace” before the Lord’s Supper. In our culture we don’t kiss each other anymore; we shake hands. It wasn’t just a greeting or a way to show friendship and affection, it was at its heart a way that the people showed their communion with each other as members of Christ’s body.
Finally, Paul closes with his own greeting in verses 21-24:
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Paul’s letters were dictated by him to a secretary who would then write them down, but he authenticates some of them by writing a final greeting in his own hand. His final greeting to the Galatian churches says, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand” (Galatians 6: 11). Most scholars think Paul was almost blind, so he wrote with large (and maybe messy) letters.
He writes himself here: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” The Greek word is anathema, which literally means, “Let him be damned.” That’s pretty harsh, but consider that it wasn’t written against people who weren’t yet believers. The world is full of people who haven’t yet heard or received the Gospel and who don’t love the Lord. While it’s true that without love for Christ they will be damned, Paul isn’t writing this so much about them. He’s writing to those men and women who profess to be Christians. It’s a reality check. If someone has no love for the Lord, then what does he love? If someone doesn’t love truth and love and mercy and grace and life itself reflected in Jesus, what does he love? He’s left loving the opposite. I would urge you to take some time this week to think on that. Jesus said that you can’t love two masters. You can’t love God and all your “stuff’ – it’s one or the other. That’s what Paul is warning them about – that if you haven’t been so touched by the reality of the presence of Christ in your life to the point that you’ve made him the love of your life, well, then you’re kidding yourself if you think you have any real Christian faith. We all have to start somewhere in the faith and then grow from there, but to have no love for the Lord puts us firmly in the camp of the non-believer despite how much time we spend in church, reading our Bibles, or doing good works.
And so Paul closes his letter by taking us back again to the centrality of Christ in Christian faith. Christianity isn’t just a philosophy or a doctrine. Those are there, but ultimately it’s a person we need to know and love – and if you claim to know him, but haven’t come to love him, there’s a good chance that you don’t really know him the way you think you do.
After that Paul makes a word play on anathema with the Aramaic word maranatha. You’ve probably heard this one too. The ESV translates it “Our Lord, come!”, but it can actually be translated several ways: “Our Lord has come,”or “Our Lord is coming all the time,” or “Our Lord will come.” Hebrew and Aramaic are funny with tenses. It’s not that Paul meant all four of those things when he wrote maranatha, but there is a sense in which all of those meanings are truly wrapped up in that word. Our Lord truly is at hand. He is present with us now, even though we still look for his
future return. It’s a wonderful reminder on the heels of his saying that anyone who does not love the Lord is damned. If you find yourself in that situation, the Lord is present. He’s not far away and he’s not hiding. All you have to do is turn to him. You can settle the problem that quickly.
Paul himself preached on Mars Hill in Athens that God is never far from any of us. People today talk about how they’re searching for God. Let me say this: If you’re on a search for God, the only thing you’re going to find is false religion. The One, True God is already seeking for you. You don’t have to look for him. He’s right there and he offers the Lord Jesus that we might come to him. Our Lord is at hand. That’s the key to the Christian life. Paul ends with those familiar words, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” That’s the greatest need we have -the grace that God offers to sinners through Jesus. And then Paul offers his own personal gift, saying, “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus, Amen.”
That’s the end of the letter, but did you notice that it followed the pattern of the Gospel?
Paul started it all with the cross. In 2:2 he wrote those words that many of us have probably memorised, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” If we put the cross at the centre, it undercuts every false teaching, whether it’s worldly “wisdom” or heresy in Church. Then he moved on to the burial of Jesus, the putting away of the flesh and all the empty things that destroy Christian faith and life. That’s the content of the main body of the letter.
But then he closed with that wonderful chapter on the resurrection. He focussed our eyes on our certain and coming hope and on the glory of the transformation of the body at Jesus’ return. And in view of all that truth, the cross, the refusal of everything contrary to life in Christ, and in the hope of the resurrection, Paul closes
with that wonderful exhortation we looked at a few weeks ago in
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us your Word. It blesses our hearts, it give understanding to our minds, it moves our wills, and it changes our lives. Father, let us each devote ourselves to studying and learning your life-giving Word and help us to continue in it as we face the pressures and temptations of daily life, that we might stand firm in our faith and always abound in the work of your kingdom. We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.